Little more than two months ago we were told that the world was on the brink of World War 3. Soleimani the popular Iranian general was assassinated and the US and Tehran were throwing things at each other. People were “marking themselves safe” thousands of kilometers away. The situation was so serious that Facebook executives noted a worrying drop in the number of dinners being posted. The world waited with bated breath.
“Baited” breath more like; for this columnist fails to get carried away by online panics and feels we are being strung along like potential victims ready to grab at the lure on a fishing line.
No sooner had WW III been temporarily averted, we were in the grip of a new crisis that would decimate civilization as we know it – CORONAVIRUS. If you haven’t heard the word or it’s respiratory disease “Covid-19” yet you are probably the only monk in a Thai cave that doesn’t have a smartphone.
Several weeks ago I was taken to task for downplaying the severity of the virus. If you’re waiting for a thick slice of Rooster humble pie to share with your online pals, it will not be forthcoming. If anything what I said about the hysteria and panic weeks ago is being borne out more and more. Worldwide governments and the WHO have been unsure about how to react. They have been blamed for acting and blamed for not acting. Criticized for doing something, criticized for doing nothing.
In Thailand – named as one of the countries with the best health systems in the world for dealing with a crisis, much to the chagrin of the kingdom’s army of bashers – the reaction has been as measured, as sensible, as unpredictable, as tricky, as anywhere. After comparing Sky and Thai news this week the government actions from both the UK and Thailand seem quite similar. The UK is well regarded,too, despite the cuts to its much vaunted NHS.
Now, Rooster does not want to downplay the potential seriousness of the consequences of the virus or belittle the devastating impact of the deaths that have occurred. But that happens in any outbreak of disease. What matters is how we protect ourselves and what measures we take to protect our communities. This means not panicking, not spreading false gossip and taking sensible precautions. Everywhere one looks in the news in Thailand there are people doing the precise opposite.
A great part of the problem associated with this outbreak is that it is the first true disease of the social media era. Social media that is responsible for unbridled and unrestrained overreaction, false and misleading news and a huge preponderance of people making statements off their own head as if they were in possession of the facts.
I don’t want to be accused of being a closet expert again so I prefer not to comment on what the immediate future will hold. The effects on tourism and the economy in Thailand are all too patent to see and this week we were seeing reactions that will affect each and every one of us living in the kingdom over the coming months. These are facts and here is a round-up of my ten most notable developments of the last seven days:
1. Arrivals from 6 “risky” countries are required to be in quarantine. This is self quarantine but people who mislead about their recent travel or coming into contact with infected people face fines of 20,000 baht – not to mention much social media disapproval.
2. To wit, several Thai returnees from South Korea – many of them illegal workers in prostitution and agriculture – were causing consternation (ok, panic) by carrying on as if they had just come back from Cleethorpes (where there is yet to be an outbreak, I believe).
3. Pattaya cancelled nearly everything except pole-dancing from now until September even though a Soi 6 girl sneezed a bit. The exception was Songkran though this will follow. Songkran gatherings in Khon Kaen, Petchabun, Buriram and Bang Saen are all history. Khao San Road will probably go the same way though a business leader there stated sensibly that the Thai government can’t dictate everything to the people. Whether Songkran is celebrated by the masses is rather up to them. Given the current state of mind, it would be surprising if they did.
This could actually be a great opportunity to get back to the days when Songkran was more traditional involving gentle splashing, respect to elders and merit making with monks. I remember banging on about this in my Thai Culture classes two decades ago. The usurping of the old ways that have morphed into drunken water fights are hardly new. And foreigners are not to blame; the Thais did it all themselves.
4. Posts on Thaivisa suggested that customers at Makro were being denied entry to the store because they had got a little hot with the walk from the car. In the old days I’d have tested positive after walking OUT of Patpong.
5. Oh, Thailand had its first death.
6. Pattaya was disinfected by some dudes firing what looked like a stun gun out of Ghostbusters at the virus. It could be working as what might be a hotbed of infection had not recorded any cases.
7. Health minister and DPM (Der Plonker Minister) Anutin Charnvirakul backtracked on his rant against a foreigner who wouldn’t accept a mask. Now he told us that masks were not necessary after all. Following a jumping of the gun regarding a nine country quarantine rule the hapless minister’s Facebook account went dead. Then he suggested that people make their own masks out of cloth to “get back at the hoarders”. Clearly Anutin is trying to rival tourism minister Pipat and the TAT for idiocy.
Or could it be explained by the Bhumjaithai leader sneaking off to the government house loos for a little wacky baccy? Lest we forget, it was the promotion of such that helped get him elected in the first place. Maybe someone should advise him that there are some powerful strains these days. Then he suggested that Universal Healthcare would cover everything…..
8. In Saraburi a recycling factory was washing old masks and netting 100,000s of baht for the owner who was flogging them online for 3 baht a time! Given the current climate she is likely to do some serious time for that as the Thais, as much as any nation, absolutely love a scapegoat. They even use the same word: Phe!
9. Bangkokians were reportedly out at 4 am buying masks after rumors that some had become available. This was only slightly less laughable than Directive #6 from the Thai government about the virus: Tell the truth.
10. Finally, the WHO advised all 60 year olds to stay at home. Despite being only 58, I will do my very best mainly because it means I don’t have to change my behavior in the slightest. And it is made even easier because the summer programs at my daughter’s school and all my upcoming Scrabble tournaments were ditched. I shall use the money saved to order Pizza Hut though I might have to hose down the delivery guy and get out my pepperoni testing kit.
Yes, it’s been one of those weeks when I have been shaking my head and I make no apology for referring to the “kings” of comedy in the UK like I did with last week’s Spitting Image column.
This week Corporal Jones’s famous Dad’s Army catchphrase “Don’t Panic Mr Mainwaring!” came to mind as, conversely, did Private Frazer’s: “We’re Doomed”. And if I may paraphrase the greatest of them all – hotel owner Basil Fawlty – who came up with one of the most famous lines in the entire history of British comedy:
“Don’t mention the virus. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it”.
Fortunately there were a few other items of news to keep the forum faithful, and your favorite translator occupied and gainfully employed.
The second of two “Thai Honesty” stories about the wonders of “Cabbydom” in the Kingdom was swiftly followed by a taxi driver who admitted to the 3.6 million baht theft of a Chinese businessman’s watch and diamond rings in September. He reckoned he had spent the proceeds in the meantime and had only robbed people twice, utter nonsense of course.
Plod reckon Tanakrit is part of a bigger gang preying on drunk and well heeled tourists in places like Sukhumvit and RCA. Part of the reason why if I do venture out I leave my Bernard Trink Honorary Solid Gold Medallion in my dressing table and swap the diamond encrusted Rolex for a less ostentatious 1,500 baht plastic Swatch.
Myanmar cops arrested two of the Chinese villains who put a 30 year old compatriot and his wife in suitcases and threw them in the Ping River in Kamphaeng Phet. The other two were arrested by Thai plod in Chiang Rai and brought for a quick reenactment to the bridge. It emerges that a gambling debt was at the root of the upset that caused the husband to be strangled and the wife to be stabbed in the back.
The Thai police proved once again how, if they want to, they prove more than capable of getting their man. Inevitably questions will always be asked why it has proved so hard to get Mr Red Bull back to Thong Lor……
A Japanese pensioner whose wife had died was the latest foreigner to be nabbed by the BMW Smart Car and its plethora of onboard diagnostics including the state of the art “internet connection”. To make matters worse it appeared that a “Good Samaritan” had dobbed him in. The poor guy was just minding his own business.
While I accept that people should endeavor to comply with immigration rules I would much rather see an amnesty for long term over-stayers to enable them to get legal. These pathetic Naew Na stories only show immigration in a heartless and time wasting light. How much better would it be to show some compassion and get the illegals back in the system.
This comes from a Thai resident who has always been legal in the kingdom but who has developed a better heart down the years thanks to the kindness of the great majority of the Thai people rubbing off on me.
In foreign news Messrs. Biden and Sanders look set to battle it out for the right to lose disastrously to Trump come November. Who would blame the Americans for appreciating their apparently improved economy and voting for the incumbent? It’s four more years of Trump folks, whether you like it or not.
In England a court decided that the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed is a nasty piece of work. His disgraceful and illegal threats and abductions of female relatives are now common knowledge. He should be barred from entering the UK and all his racehorses and top hats should be seized. And Mrs Windsor should disassociate herself from him.
Finally, and somewhat inevitable, back to the coronavirus.
The BBC reported that the Tanzanian president John Magufuli had foregone the traditional handshake when greeting an opposition politician. Instead he opted for a kind of entangling of the feet.
Might I suggest that Thailand puts aside its rather absurd objections to the use of the foot and accept that this could be a very good way to stop the spread of the virus.
It could also have an added benefit in revealing the precise location of the appendage suspected of being elsewhere in recent weeks.
Lodged in the mouths of various ministers.